Category Archives: Budget

Immoral Tax Plan Makes Its Way Through Congress

Immoral Tax Plan Makes Its Way Through Congress

Mary Cunningham
December 13, 2017

Around 3 A.M. Saturday, December 2, the Senate voted to pass the Republican tax bill, a measure which will undeniably have detrimental effects on low and middle income households.  The bill also costs the U.S. treasury over $1.5 trillion dollars, which will soon be used as a reason to make cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security as well as other safety net programs.

With all of this happening, what’s really going on behind closed doors? Both the Senate and House have chosen members who will sit on the conference committee tasked to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill. There has already been a lot of back and forth as House and Senate leadership discuss which details to include in the final tax cut bill. These discussions largely surround debates on the repeal of the alternative minimum tax for corporations, concerns about the research and development tax credit, the repeal of the state and local tax deductions, and requests to lower taxes on small businesses.

Every Democrat in the House and Senate and numerous Republican members of the House have come out against the bill, recognizing the adverse effects it will have on their districts. Passing a bill that will increase taxes on their constituents is a large risk, especially with midterm elections approaching rapidly. The incentive to get this bill passed is largely political. Republicans, eager to have at least one major victory, are rushing to get it passed before this year’s end.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has condemned the tax bill, calling it “unconscionable.” They claim it will disproportionately affect working poor families and individuals while protecting the interests of the wealthy. In a letter to the House of Representatives, the Bishops noted that key programs which help people who are economically marginalized are at risk for elimination, including an income tax credit for persons with disabilities and the deduction for state and local taxes. While the Child Tax Credit would be expanded, it’s likely that low-income families will not be able to reap the benefits, especially immigrant families who file their taxes with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). They wrote, “No tax reform proposal is acceptable that increases taxes for those living in poverty to help pay for benefits to wealthy citizens.”

This bill will lead directly to automatic cuts in healthcare and other vital social programs, in part to offset the estimated $1.5 trillion cost of the bill over the next 10 years. House Speaker Paul Ryan has already signaled that the next step for Congress after passing the bill will be to reduce funding for entitlement programs to pay for the tax cuts. We can learn from other states that have implemented tax cuts experiments and see that they have not worked! In 2012, the Kansas state legislature passed a tax cut plan that they promised would boost the economy and pay for itself over the years. In reality, lowering income and business taxes only hurt the economy, and led to a severely damaging loss of state revenue. Now, the Trump administration’s tax plan poses the same threat on a national level. This is a bill that Republican members of Congress are pushing in order to satisfy their donors. It is not a bill for the 100% and is the wrong direction for our country.

Here are some ways to oppose to GOP tax plan:

  • Call your Representatives! The fight is not over. Call 1-888-422-4555 to speak to your Representative and tell her or him why you oppose the bill. Remember to share your faith perspective!
  • Speak out on social media! Use your Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram accounts to voice your concerns about the tax bill and the effects it will have on our most vulnerable neighbors.
  • Visit your Member of Congress’s office with friends in your community and talk directly to staff about why this bill is wrong for your district and wrong for the country.
  • Get creative: Hold a prayer vigil outside your Members’ office!

A Budget Is a Moral Document

A Budget Is a Moral Document

Sister Kathleen Kanet
October 26, 2017

When you are frustrated and in pain over the political direction of your country, what do you do? The source of much of my anguish was over our 2018 Federal Budget.

To me a budget is a moral document. What I saw in this proposed budget were more benefits for the rich and fewer for the poor. I kept thinking and praying about how to reverse the situation. Who in the world has the moral authority to speak out on behalf of the poor? Why, of course, the nuns, the sisters in our country who could write letters to the author of that selfish document!

Here is a bit of the story of a project which I have begun: a call for American sisters and nuns to write letters to Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and the main author and advocate of this very harsh budget.

Since the beginning of our country, U.S. sisters have been on the side of the poor and have worked toward the common good. We have many stories to tell which could encourage our political leaders to change our present policies. Who better than American sisters to help articulate what a faithful and just budget, inclusive for all, would be?

Many of us in religious life grew up with Vatican II. I am grateful that my congregation helped me to interiorize and to live out the mission of Jesus as he announced it: To bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind and to let the oppressed go free! And to do so in joy!

This is the basis of my hope that this fall, many hundreds or even thousands of American sisters will be writing personal letters to a fellow Catholic, Paul Ryan. In our letters we will be sharing our stories about the needs of those we encounter in our ministries, and we will ask him to craft a budget that promotes the human dignity of all peoples.

It is lamentable that care for people who are poor, ill or elderly, for children, single mothers, and our beloved Earth is woefully missing in the proposed 2018 federal budget. Ironically, though, it calls for tax cuts for corporations and the rich and boosts a big military buildup. This letter-writing campaign is a great opportunity to “announce good news to the poor” and to promote the common good for all.

NETWORK , (founded by a group of Catholic women religious in 1971 to do Catholic social justice lobbying) has a proven track record of effective lobbying on economic issues. In the famous Nuns On the Bus effort of 2012, they traveled the country to draw attention to sisters’ work with the poor and to protest aid cuts on that year’s federal budget proposed by Paul Ryan.

This year, NETWORK was to introduce this campaign at the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) meeting in August. Soon after, NETWORK should be following up with an invitation to all the sisters in the United States, to participate in a letter-writing campaign. They will coordinate the reception of the letters and will present them to Paul Ryan — with visits to other members of Congress — late in 2017.

Writing personal letters to Paul Ryan about the federal budget, and telling him and other lawmakers how that budget, as designed, will hurt many of the people we have worked with, are sorely needed prophetic actions.

It won’t be as easy as signing a letter or petition, or sending an email or making a phone call. It will take time, thought and commitment.

Currently, I am working with about two dozen of my own sisters of the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary to think about the letters we will be writing. We have had two meetings and more are planned for the coming few months. At the first meeting, 17 of us sat in a circle, listened to the invitation to this project, prayed quietly and then went around the circle sharing thoughts and comments. I heard “Great idea!” “Something concrete we can do!” “It is prophetic!” “Positive initiative.” As I listened to those initial comments, I was so encouraged.

In the past few months I have spoken with more than 100 sisters and others regarding this idea. Since I have been working in peace and justice initiatives for almost all my religious life, these conversations have been joyful reunions for me.

One of my first encounters was with a sister at LCWR. As I introduced myself to her, I mentioned that I was part of the Justice Peace Education Council, which in the 1980s presented hundreds of “Infusion Curriculum” workshops in Catholic schools in more than 50 dioceses throughout the country. Immediately she said, “Oh, I attended one and I remember it so well — it was so positive.” (The records of JPEC have been placed in the Schlesinger Library at Harvard, but are not yet available.)

I’m also encouraged to hear about the about the wonderful works of sisters already engaged in trying to promote the common good and change the moral imperative in our country. The founding director of NETWORK is still working for Earth justice at her motherhouse. One younger sister sends regular positive tweets to President Trump, modeling comments of love, healing, peace, goodness and relationship. Wouldn’t it be great if we could get the support and participation of all the sisters in the US?

Many of us are now beginning to wonder — in addition to the letters, how can we share this prophetic action with others in our country? Besides writing the letters and encouraging other sisters to get involved, how can we publicize this action to our family, friends and the public? How can we communicate our excitement at the possibility of filling the U.S. media with a new social vision?

There now exists a Facebook page: “A Fair and Moral Budget: Nuns Write Letters to Paul Ryan.” Join it and ask others on Facebook to do the same. Send us something to put on this page. Contact your communications people and ask them to be involved.

Hold a workshop writing meeting with your retired (but active) sisters.

When you write your letter, share it with others.

As do so many other powerful actions, this is beginning as a grassroots initiative — and now it is in the hands of the Holy Spirit.

We ask for your prayers from all over the globe for the success of this venture!

Reposted by permission of Global Sisters Report.

Prioritizing Communities Recovering from Disasters

Prioritizing Communities Recovering from Disasters

Kaitlin Brown

October 24, 2017

In the past few months, natural disasters have ripped away the homes of many of our sisters and brothers in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and California. Folks were left with limited time, just minutes in California, to pack up and flee to safety and are now returning to destroyed homes with few options. On conference calls with our housing partners working on the ground, I hear week after week about families in Puerto Rico going without electricity and clean water, and elderly folks in nursing homes in hurricane affected areas going without air conditioning. In Texas, people lined up overnight for D-SNAP (food stamps for those in disaster areas) only to be turned away for lack of identification. In Florida, low-income families and individuals were unable to afford the high cost of resort fees that came in addition to their FEMA hotel vouchers.

While these crises have unfolded, Congress moved quickly to pass the first of two supplemental disaster spending bills, and for this we are grateful. Right after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas in September, Congress passed a $15 billion aid package. This week, the House passed a $36.5 billion bill that is waiting to be voted on in the Senate. While this is a great start, it really is simply putting a Band-Aid on a much bigger problem. Experts expect more money will be needed down the road: Puerto Rico hasn’t been able to have damage assessments done to know how much money is needed, Texas alone has asked for $18 billion for recovery, and with wildfires still raging in California, the extent of the damage is not known.

So with this going on, and millions of people displaced, what has Congress decided to prioritize between now and the end of the year? Cutting taxes for the wealthiest corporations and individuals– a bill that would increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion– while also cutting crucial services for those most vulnerable. The budget plan voted on by Congress would be especially damaging for those affected by recent natural disasters, as it is focused on cutting crucial services for those most vulnerable, including SNAP and housing benefits, such as Section 8 vouchers. The tax bill that will quickly follow the budget, will add to our deficit by cutting taxes for the richest among us and corporations, while failing to supply any additional money to disaster relief and recovery.

As a person of faith, I think this is wrong. The need to care for the most vulnerable among us must take priority, and especially should not be neglected at the expense of tax cuts for the wealthiest. And while Congress has been bickering over the tax “reform” plan, many people in Puerto Rico are still without power and clean water, people in Texas and Florida are without stable, long-term shelter, and people in California are without entire cities. Our elected officials must do better to truly care for the most vulnerable among us.

Dear Paul Ryan: An Open Letter

Dear Paul Ryan: An Open Letter

By Sister Susan Francois
October 20, 2017

Dear Rep. Ryan,

By now, you may have noticed that you are the focus of a little project by Catholic sisters in this country who are concerned about the devastating effects of proposed cuts to the federal budget. In particular, many of us are seriously worried about potential cuts to human-needs programs that will harm the most vulnerable members of our society.

I know you already received an in-person, not to mention televised, message from Sinsinawa Dominican Sr. Erica Jordan. I don’t know Sister Erica personally, but I thought she did a pretty good job of framing the critical moral questions we need you and your colleagues in Congress to grapple with around the budget.

Ultimately, if we are to be a government of, for, and by the people, then we need to take into account not just numbers, but the real lives of people. Furthermore, for those of us for whom our Catholic faith provides a moral compass, we know that Jesus challenges us to have a particular concern for those who are living in poverty and struggling to provide for their families in our harsh economic reality.

Sister Erica, of course, spoke to you as one Catholic to another. Over the years, you have been vocal about your faith. I remember clearly being impacted by your response to the address of Pope Francis to Congress. It was so very genuine.

“He’s been calling for a dialogue and talking about very important principles about the dignity of every human person and how we need to attend to this,” you said then. You also cautioned against politicizing the pope’s message. “If a person tries to politicize this speech for some issue or partisan gain, that diminishes from the message itself.”

Everything gets politicized these days, doesn’t it? Politicized and polarized. If you think about it, our entire lifetimes (I’m about two years younger than you, according to your Wikipedia profile) have been a time of hyperpolarization, leading to the current gridlock in Washington and a decided lack of helpful discourse and debate in the public sphere, let alone dialogue!

I am heartened that you value Pope Francis’ call to dialogue. I also hope that if and when you read this letter, it will be received in the spirit with which it is intended — namely, dialogue.

In your conversation with Sister Erica on CNN, you shared your appreciation for the model of Catholic organizations that help the poor. You expressed that they do a “fantastic job in spite of government doing wraparound benefits for the poor to make sure that they get to where they are — from where they are to where they need to be.”

My religious congregation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace, sponsors and supports nonprofit services for low-income women in Jersey City, New Jersey, and Seattle with a similar model. Both the York Street Project and Jubilee Women’s Center provide such wraparound services, treat the whole person, and assist the women they serve on their journey to self-sufficiency.

I found it interesting that you referenced the year 1985 in your response to Sister Erica, because that is around the time my sisters started both these innovative programs.

I agree with you that we need to encourage and support such programs, but as partners with government, not replacements for our civic duty to promote the general welfare. Such programs do not do a fantastic job in spite of government, but in tandem with life-giving government programs like the Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), which are in jeopardy in the budget proposals under consideration. At the York Street Project, for example, CDBG funds support the job readiness program at Kenmare High School, helping women who previously dropped out of the public school system to find jobs that will support their families.

You also told Sister Erica that we need to look at how we measure success in anti-poverty programs, shifting focus from dollars spent to outcomes.

“Is it working?” you asked. “Are people getting out of poverty?”

I agree that these are the key questions, but helping people get out of poverty requires an investment, not budget cuts. Program effectiveness is not free.

The women who come to Jubilee Women’s Center and York Street Project are motivated to break the cycle of poverty, as are the dedicated staff who journey with them. Yet the path from homelessness to stable housing is not an easy one. It is also complicated by real-life factors. Fifty-three percent of the women at Jubilee are survivors of domestic violence; 49 percent are coping with mental health challenges; 28 percent have physical health challenges; and 17 percent are in recovery from substance abuse. Knowing all this is one thing, but actually meeting the residents and hearing their stories of resilience is powerful.

At the same time, their resilience and our programs are not enough. Our creative and persistent staff navigate a patchwork of constantly changing government programs to help the women find stable permanent housing, including housing and urban development funds for rental assistance and the Low Income Energy Assistance Program, which helps working moms keep the lights on with a minimum-wage job. To be honest, we need more funding, not less, to reach the outcomes you name.

Take the example of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). These are not just alphabet soup, but federal programs that add up to real soup for hungry kids and their parents.

When I visited St. Joseph’s Home at York Street, I saw the kitchen where staff help mothers learn how to cook homemade meals for their little ones with ingredients that make these dollars stretch to cover the whole month. This is no easy task on already-limited funds, and the proposed federal budget decreases this life-supporting funding.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the drift. And in any case, you will be receiving hundreds, if not thousands, more letters from Catholic sisters sharing real-life stories like these.

Please, Speaker Ryan, take these messages to heart. Consider them part of an ongoing dialogue, one that seeks to break through the partisan bickering and polarized debate and find common ground to serve the common good. I implore you to help craft a federal budget that attends both to the general welfare of our nation, but also the particular needs of the most vulnerable families in our country.

Reposted by permission of Global Sisters Report.

[Susan Rose Francois is a member of the Congregation Leadership Team for the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace. She was a Bernardin scholar at Catholic Theological Union and has ministered as a justice educator and advocate. Read more of her work on her blog, At the Corner of Susan and St. Joseph.]

September is the Month for Budget Bipartisanship

September is the Month for Budget Bipartisanship

Marge Clark
August 24, 2017

The House and the Senate will return to the Capitol on September 5 with serious tasks before them. There is not yet a federal budget for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18), however members are proceeding to votes on funding all 12 appropriations bills without top line spending limits in either chamber. Current spending authority from the FY17 budget runs out on September 30, and additionally, the debt limit must be agreed to by September 29.

Members of Congress continue to work on tax reform, and they hope to use the reconciliation process to bypass the need for Democratic votes. If reconciliation is used, passage in the Senate needs 51 votes, rather than 60. Reconciliation, however, can only be used after a budget has been passed, the same in House and Senate. This is not looking promising. One escape from this requirement for Congressional leadership may be through use of the existing FY17 reconciliation approved for healthcare, which they were not able to use. This is possible if the parliamentarian is in agreement with the change.

The House has passed a package of four appropriations bills nicknamed the “security minibus” with hope of bringing an eight-bill “megabus” to the floor in early September. House appropriations bills exceed the defense spending caps set in a 2011 agreement by an additional $72 billion in defense spending for 2018. Nondefense spending is set at $4 billion below its cap of $515.7 billion. Surpassing the 2011 limits will trigger the sequestration process, unless there is a bipartisan deal to raise the caps – which has been done in previous years. The House will most likely pass appropriations bills along party lines – no need for any Democratic votes. However, Democrats continue to push for parity (that there be some increase in nondefense spending whenever there is an increase in defense spending). They have given up on an equivalent increase.

The House realizes its appropriations package would be very unlikely to pass in the Senate where it needs Democratic votes. The House bill, then, simply exists for the purpose of expressing the severity of cuts Republican leaders want to make to human needs assistance to the elderly, children, those unable to work, and people with physical and mental disabilities.

The Senate has yet to pass any appropriations bills. The appropriations committee has begun working on six bills, but none have gone to the Senate floor. Their bills are being set at current year spending levels. Even this would break the 20111 statutory cap by $2 billion (defense) and $ 3.8 billion (nondefense).

As previously mentioned, exceeding the caps triggers extreme, automatic across-the board cuts called sequestration, unless both chambers come together to form an agreement to raise the budget caps for FY18. This has been done in FY16 and FY17. It is unlikely that can be completed before the end of September, despite Speaker Paul Ryan’s assertion that talks with the Senate are happening, and that they will act before the deadline.

Appropriations are must-pass legislation. If there is not agreement by the end of September when the FY17 budget runs out, the options include a Continuing Resolution (CR) or a government shutdown. A CR could be put in place until December – which has frequently been done in recent years.

One issue contributing to the likelihood of a September 30 shutdown is President Trump’s insistence that funding for the southern border wall be included for FY18. If funding is not resolved through a CR, the border wall could also cause a shutdown in December.

Additional “must-pass” legislation includes raising the debt limit. It is clear that Congress cannot use accounting tricks to pay the bills any longer than September. We do not want to default on our debts as a nation. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin calls for a “clean” bill to raise the debt ceiling, meaning no spending or cost cutting demands attached. Members of Congress as less inclined to do this. The debt ceiling is a great place to put pressure on members to pass something that has split support and would be hard to pass.  It is possible that “the wall” would be attached to raising the borrowing limit – which cannot be put off past September 29, according to Mnuchin.

Funding of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) is also must-pass in September, as its authorization and funding run out at the end of September. This could also be used as a place to raise the debt limit.

August is quickly coming to its end, and the September 5 return of Congress is almost here. Since members have not really started negotiations over raising budget caps, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, in both chambers are predicting a short-term continuing resolution. Most do not want to chance a shutdown, and they need more time to develop a final spending plan. Stay tuned!

Time for Moral Leadership on the Federal Budget

NETWORK Lobby’s Federal Budget Priorities

Download as a print-friendly PDF to share with your friends, or elected officials!

Download PDF.

NETWORK believes the federal budget is a moral document that reflects the priorities of our nation. Our budget must prioritize human needs programs, ensure funding to care for vulnerable members of our society, restore economic opportunity, and invest in community.  The challenges facing our nation and our world are serious and require a serious response from government.

The Budget Reality

Since 2010, powerful forces have converged to use the federal budget as a vehicle to lower the federal deficit by cutting social spending. These cuts are drastic and destructive, and they undermine programs that provide critical assistance to our nation’s most vulnerable. Meanwhile, tax breaks for wealthy corporations and outsized military spending, which cost billions of dollars, have been expanded.

From FY 2010 through 2016, funding declined for large numbers of human needs programs. FY 2017 funding was the seventh straight year of austerity for human needs programs, driven by the multi-year caps from the 2011 Budget Control Act and further reduced by additional budget cuts. In 2018, human needs funding is set to fall by $3 billion if Congress does not take action to stop the cuts.

Our Values:
  • The budget is a moral document.
  • Catholic Social Justice teaches us to uphold the dignity of each person as an equally valuable member of the human family.
  • As people of faith, we must be in solidarity with those who are living in poverty in the struggle against structures of injustice.

Federal Policies Must Mend Gaps, Not Widen Them

Elected officials must make budget decisions that promote the common good. This requires adequately funding programs benefiting vulnerable people while rejecting superfluous spending.  Investment in human needs programs will create stronger, safer, and healthier communities and promote the common good. Increasing funds for immigration enforcement and borders will not increase our security and must be rejected.

For FY 2018, NETWORK’s priorities are funding for the Census and Housing. We reject additional funding requests that would further militarize our border and harm immigrants in our communities.

Learn about funding in the Federal Budget for: Census, Housing, and Homeland Security.

Is There Reality in Funding the Federal Government?

Blog: Is There Reality in Funding the Federal Government?

Sister Marge Clark
March 13, 2017

Funding for the current fiscal year ends on April 28. Congress needs to complete plans for funding the federal government for this current fiscal year and at the same time begin to create a budget for 2018.   Since Congress is on recess for four weeks before the April 28 deadline, there are only five weeks to get the job done. Decisions on appropriations will impact a number of NETWORK “Mend the Gap” priorities, but three programs are particularly vulnerable:  housing support for those in poverty, healthcare funding and funds to conduct the 2020 Census.

We know that funding for these programs mean so much to the lives of those in poverty.  Pope Francis reminds us that, behind every statistic, there is the face of a person who is suffering, … “Poverty has a face! It has the face of a child; it has the face of a family; it has the face of people, young and old. It has the face of widespread unemployment and lack of opportunity. It has the face of forced migrations, and of empty or destroyed homes.”

Housing vouchers are particularly at risk for this year. The current budget allotted $500 million less than the amount needed to fund currently held vouchers for the rest of the year. CBPP estimates that more than 100,000 vouchers could be lost in the next few months. 100,000 households could become homeless unless we can secure new funding.

The Affordable Care Act continues to be under attack.  One of the key ways opponents may move to cut the program is to defund its operating system.  House appropriators, for several years have denied the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the IRS new funding to cover the administrative costs of ACA implementation.   These funds and more are at serious risk.

Past decennial censuses have tended to undercount communities of color, people experiencing poverty, immigrants, young children, Native Americans and rural residents. The systematic undercounting of these communities decreases their access to federal funding and proportional representation. If the Census Bureau does not receive increased funding to conduct necessary tests and prepare for 2020, we fear that these gaps in the census will persist.

This year, the funding decisions are particularly daunting, as the administration and many House Republicans are determined to increase military spending while adhering to the top level spending caps established in the Budget Control Act, 2011.  Doing this necessitates cuts in non-defense spending – mostly human needs programs – in order to not exceed the caps.

Further, at the Trump Administration request, Congress is considering a 2017 Supplemental Budget.   They propose that it would cover the added cost of the President’s “deportation force,” which we have seen escalate its activities in the last week.  It would include some war costs, but mostly would cover the cost of President Trump’s Border Wall which ranges from estimates $8 billion to $21 billion.  Removing this from the FY 2017 appropriations does not relieve all of us from paying for it. We would still need to fund the Supplemental through our tax dollars.  NETWORK will actively work to stop this bill.

In addition to completing work on the FY 2017 Appropriations, Congress faces passage of a Budget for FY 2018 – which goes into effect October 1, 2017.  They have yet to receive direction from the President, other than broad statements of cutting non-defense spending by a stunning $3.7 trillion over ten years. This equates to a 43 percent drop in meeting the basic support of people with limited income.

Increases in military spending and unwillingness of Congress to increase revenue put the burden of balancing the budget on the backs of people in need by reducing spending on human needs such as housing, healthcare and the census. This is in direct opposition to what NETWORK Lobby and Advocates for Catholic Social Justice continue to work to achieve. It is imperative that all of us engage with our members of Congress frequently to influence their spending decisions. We need to work hard to protect the dignity of all people in our communities.

Gaps are Closing, but More Must be Done to Create an Economy of Inclusion

Gaps are Closing, but More Must Be Done to Create an Economy of Inclusion

By Lucas Allen
September 22, 2016

Nearly nine years after the start of the Great Recession, economic recovery has been painfully slow for many Americans and vast economic divides remain. However, promising new data released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau shows that 2015 was the best year of economic improvement for low- and middle-income Americans in decades. Here is some of the good news revealed in the report:

  • The poverty rate fell by 1.2 percentage points, the steepest decline since 1968
  • Real median household incomes rose by 5.2%, the largest increase since the 1960s
  • The percentage of Americans who lack healthcare fell to 9.1%, the lowest uninsured rate in our nation’s history

Most importantly, these economic improvements were distributed to all Americans—not just the wealthiest. This Census report shows that in 2015, our country made some much-needed positive steps toward mending the gaps in our divided society. While these improvements are certainly promising, a closer look at the report shows that we have much more work to do to create an economy of inclusion. The shared growth of the past year is welcome news, but it has not changed the reality that far too many people are struggling to get by in the world’s richest nation. It is a grave injustice that women, children, and people of color continue to bear a disproportionate burden of this suffering. The poverty rates of women who head families (36.5%), children (19.7%), and African Americans (24.1%) are all far higher than the average poverty rate of 13.5%.

One cause for hope in this report is that federal programs are working to lift people out of situations of poverty—they just need to be ramped up. The improvements our country makes, and the gaps that persist, are greatly impacted by policies and decisions made by Congress. For example, the Earned-Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) kept 9.2 million people out of poverty, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) kept 4.6 million people out of poverty. These large numbers are hard to picture, but they represent millions of families who are able to make ends meet with support from these programs.

In his address to Congress last year, Pope Francis said, “A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people.” Programs such as the EITC, CTC, and SNAP are great examples of legislation based on care for people and the common good. If you and I make our voices heard this election season, we can ensure that programs like these are protected and expanded to create an inclusive economy and society.

More resources:

Blog: Will We Have a Clean Budget or Poison Pills?

Will We Have a Clean Budget or Poison Pills?

By Sister Marge Clark
June 27, 2016

Both the House and the Senate are working their way through funding bills (appropriations) for fiscal year 2017, which begins on October 1, 2016. Unfortunately, they are muddling through without the benefit of a budget that would allocate the amount of funding for each of the twelve areas of annual discretionary spending. This is because members of the House remain divided on what the overall spending amount should be: abide by the Bipartisan Budget Agreement signed by House and Senate in late 2015, or spend less—breaking yet another agreement. This disagreement opens the door for amendments that will benefit some special interest groups and limit spending on our common needs.

House Republicans often use this chaos to add things – whether it be harmful cuts to government assistance programs, or eligibility restrictions—that are undesirable or even irrelevant to the bills at hand. We refer to such amendments as “poison pill” riders. They ride on the bill, often without discussion or a separate vote. Examples of this include addition of work requirements for those receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or drug testing to receive housing assistance. These added strategies further devastate the hopes of people trying to live in dignity and improve the status of their family.

NETWORK’s Mend the Gap principles and policy recommendations promote legislation that will allow families to live in greater dignity and move to a more stable position in their community. NETWORK Lobby is working to keep these “poison pill” riders from damaging the legislation necessary to ensure sufficient housing and healthcare and to protect workers and their families.

Last year, as the spending bills were rolled into an “omnibus” package to be voted on as a single bill, advocacy groups were successful in keeping poison pill riders off the package. We worked with one voice across very divergent groups, because we all see the potential damage to our communities. Now, the fight is more difficult because we have to fight riders on each individual spending bill. It takes more time to study and analyze each individual bill, and it takes more awareness of issues other than our own greatest concerns. But together, we fight on.

So far this year we have been successful in the Senate. There have been very few poison riders introduced. But, there are many bills to go. In the House, there is a constant need to watch what amendments are proposed, and to demand that members consider the implications of each of these amendments on the good of all the people, not just a privileged few. The further into the appropriations season we get – and the closer to the election – the more danger there is of amendments cutting assistance to people who are vulnerable. NETWORK Lobby continues to work for clean legislation for our nation’s spending priorities.